pulling levers
February 19, 2019

President Trump tried to get his acting attorney general to appoint an ally as the head of an ongoing investigation into his former attorney, The New York Times reports.

Last year, Trump reportedly asked Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker if he could get Southern District of New York attorney Geoffrey Berman put in charge of the district's investigation. This probe is what led to charges against Trump's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who has said he paid women to stay silent about alleged affairs with Trump and did so at Trump's direction. The SDNY is also currently examining Trump's inaugural committee.

Trump reportedly made the request of Whitaker last year despite the fact that Berman had recused himself from the probe. When Whitaker didn't fulfill his request, Trump "soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president's many legal problems go away," the Times writes, adding that there's "no evidence that [Whitaker] took any direct steps" to interfere in the probe.

The Times also notes that Whitaker is now "under scrutiny" from House Democrats, since he previously told Congress that Trump didn't pressure him to interfere in ongoing investigations. A Department of Justice spokesperson said in a statement that Whitaker "stands by his testimony" since he previously told Congress that "at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel's investigation or any other investigation." Whitaker had in his testimony dodged questions about whether he talked with Trump about the SDNY's investigation.

Asked Tuesday whether he asked Whitaker for a change of leadership in the Cohen probe, Trump said, "No, not at all. I don't know who gave you that. That's more fake news." Brendan Morrow

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